Do you consider yourself socially awkward? Do you ever feel like you need to be alone? Do you long for a quiet afternoon with no interruptions? I’m sure everyone needs to be alone at one time or another. I’m sure everyone has experienced the need to relax after a hard day.
Those of us on the spectrum also feel the need to be alone.
Actually, it’s often more than a need, it is a necessity. Being atypical in a typical world can be exhausting. I like to compare it to being a foreigner in a country where you don’t speak the language. It’s like being an alien on a planet that isn’t your home.
Each of us on the autism spectrum has entirely different experiences but we do share some characteristics in common. One is the stress of social interaction. School, work or being anywhere that involves socializing causes stress and anxiety.
Talking to people throughout the day is physically draining. Often just a few hours of socializing can deplete all my energy. It may sound odd, but I equate socializing to a physical workout. I am not a social butterfly but it doesn’t mean I do not want to be with other people. It just means I need a social breaks. I find that if I meet a friend for coffee or lunch, I’ll come home and just sit quietly by myself for a while.
Sometimes socializing makes me feel physically fatigued.
What you may not understand is the level of concentration and focus I, and my fellow autistics, need to maintain in order to be social. I tend to over-analyze every interaction. While you may wonder if you said the right thing, I often worry about everything I say. For example, I had to learn to not be blunt. Let’s face it, people on the spectrum are frequently blunt. We tell it like it is. Even though I never had any type of intervention for my autism, I eventually learned (after numerous social blunders) not to say everything that pops into my head. This requires my full attention. When I do let my bluntness show, I become even more aware of my social awkwardness.
My oldest and youngest daughters with autism often come home exhausted from a day of socializing at school. It would be a perfect world if everyone understood us. Unfortunately, there are still many people who do not have the right information about autism.
So, what’s a socially awkward autistic person supposed to do?
Short of living alone in the woods, we have to be social at some point and time in our lives. As I mentioned before, having some quiet time after I socialize helps me release the tension that comes from socializing. Doing a favorite activity such as reading also helps me calm down.
Try to limit the number of social interactions your child must engage in. If sports practice or an art class is in the evening, try not to schedule another activity on the same day. If you know your child gets over stimulated at birthday parties, work with the host to set up a play date at convenient time when there will be fewer children present. Most of all, pay attention to any negative behaviors and ask yourself what your child is trying to convey to you.
If socializing causes meltdowns, reduce the amount of activities outside of school until your child becomes less stressed. Take small steps towards socialization. You know your child best. Give them the space to be alone and never forget that we do want to be social. We just need socializing at different pace than the rest of the world.
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